When I started writing this book the over-riding idea was: this is going to be fun. The real Ghostbusters! Haunted houses! And it was a blast. But when I first went down to Duke University and started going through the 700+ boxes that comprise the lab archives I realized, good God, these scientists were serious. There were thousands and thousands of meticulously conducted, recorded and evaluated experiments (millions in the end). They were not kidding around. I focused on the lab scientists’ correspondence because that was where the real battle for parapsychology—and there was a tremendous battle—was played out. Who knew scientists could be this venomous?
Every time the lab published their results there was an outcry and a flurry of letters from other scientists around the country who were not happy with their findings. For every letter from an offended scientist however, there were thousands more from people all over the world who had experienced something strange that demanded an explanation. A certain percentage of them can, in fact, be explained away by fraud, delusion or wishful thinking, but not all.
I tracked some of these people down. For instance, I found one of the children at the center of a spectacular poltergeist case from the 1950’s. I was sure the now-grown kids would confess that they had thrown the objects themselves. Since I am essentially a skeptic (curious skeptic) this was the only thing I could conceive of them saying. This isn’t what she said. Neither child believes that ghosts or poltergeists were responsible, but the objects did go flying, nevertheless, so something must have moved them. No one on the scene investigating what happened thought the kids were playing a prank—not the detective assigned to this case, or the reporters who wrote about it, or the lab scientists sent up from Duke.
Objects fly, the dead make appearances, (or something that is interpreted as the dead is perceived) and people sometimes know things that they have no way of knowing through the five senses. These strange things happened and still do.
Hopefully this blog will not only help promote my book, Unbelievable: Investigations into Ghosts, Poltergeists, Telepathy, and Other Unseen Phenomena from the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory (Ecco, 2009), but like the blog for my last book, it will also become a resource for the subject.
My most recent book is Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others (Algonquin Books, 2014). My books before that are: The Restless Sleep: Inside New York City’s Cold Case Squad, (Viking Press, 2005) Waiting for My Cats to Die: a morbid memoir, (St. Martin’s Press, 2001) and Cyberville: Clicks, Culture and the Creation of an Online Town (Warner Books, 1998).
I’m also an occasional contributor to the NPR show, All Things Considered. And my personal blog is here.